Savannah is dreading being home alone with her overbearing mother after her sister goes off to college. But if she can just get through senior year, she’ll be able to escape to college, too. What she doesn’t count on is that her mother’s obsession with weight has only grown deeper since her appearance on an extreme weight-loss show, and now Savvy’s mom is pressuring her even harder to be constantly mindful of what she eats.
Between her mom’s diet-helicoptering, missing her sister, and worrying about her collegiate future, Savvy has enough to worry about. And then she meets George, the cute new kid at school who has insecurities of his own. As Savvy and George grow closer, they help each other discover how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now before it disappears.
To Be Honest is the story of many things – an overbearing parent, weight, mental health, new love – and that’s just scratching the surface. Let’s talk about weight first. Savannah unapologetically calls herself fat. (She looks a lot like me actually – short and curvy!) This is to her mother’s dismay, as she has recently lost a lot of weight on a reality TV programme Shake the Weight. Savannah believes that her mother has become unhealthily obsessed with weight, and that she is trying to induce Savannah into having an unequally unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. What the book is great at doing is showing the more insidious nature of fatphobia – for example, Savannah’s mom has a pillow that says ‘Don’t eat sugar, you’re sweet enough’. All that fake positivity, which is just there to mask the hatred of fat bodies.
I also really loved the representation of mental health. Savannah has panic attacks, one of which happens very early on in the novel. I really connected with the way that she panicked over seemingly little things – things that wouldn’t panic a non mentally ill person. I can understand that. I think that the love interest, George, also has a type of anxiety – in his case, he talks very clearly about having test anxiety, and how he freezes up in exam conditions.
Finally, I really enjoyed how clever Savannah is. She tutors George in pre-calc (SO nice to see girls taking the lead in STEM!) but she also co-writes a revealing newspaper article about her school’s sports teams. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do when she goes to college next year, but she has a lot of options open to her.
Overall, I thought this was a great YA novel which tackles fatphobia in an honest way that I wish I could have read when I was a teenager. And YES to fat girls getting happily ever afters like we deserve!
Trigger warnings: eating disorder, fatphobia, homophobia, panic attacks, emotional abuse
Maggie Ann Martin hails from Iowa City, Iowa but moonlights as a New Yorker. She has a shiny new BA in English and Journalism from the University of Iowa, the most welcoming literary community in the world. When she is not writing, you can find her binge watching TV shows or passionately fangirling over fictional characters on the Internet. The Big F is her debut novel.
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